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Gray details Massena budget proposal

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MASSENA — No tax increases is “all but impossible” for the town this year, according to Supervisor Joseph D. Gray.

Mr. Gray detailed his 2013 spending plan to the Town Council on Wednesday. The proposal includes increasing the property tax levy by more than $725,000, leaving two vacant positions at the Massena Public Library unfilled and cutting funding to most outside agencies, including the Massena Humane Society, Meals on Wheels and the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce.

The proposed tax rate increase for those inside the village is $1.33 per $1,000 of assessed valuation, from $3.46 to $4.79, a 38.4 percent hike. For those outside the village, there is a proposed $1.32 increase, from $4.41 to $5.73, a 30 percent climb from the 2012 rate.

That means a property owner in the village with a parcel assessed at $90,000 would pay $119.70 more in town taxes than in 2012, while one outside the village with a parcel assessed at $90,000 would pay $118.80 more.

“We have come to this point, in my opinion, by our continual pursuit of annual budgets with zero tax increases. That goal, as noble as it may be, is made all but impossible by factors outside the control of this Town Council,” Mr. Gray said in his budget narrative to the town board. “In short, we continue to lose sources of revenue, we have depleted fund balances and we have failed to increase taxes to keep pace with the cost of doing business.”

The youth services librarian position and a clerk position would not be filled under Mr. Gray’s plan, cutting the library’s expenses by $13,000 from its approximately $751.000 budget this year.

“I feel bad doing that as the new library board and its new director have done a great job adjusting their budget and actually reduced their request. My proposed cut has nothing to do with their performance, which has been stellar,” Mr. Gray said. “As a result of these cuts, the library may have to adjust or decrease hours of operation. I hope it does not come to that.”

The court stenographer position would also be eliminated, a savings of $6,500, because the town can digitally record proceedings, Mr. Gray said.

“I don’t think there’s an absolute need for that position,” Mr. Gray said.

Agencies like the Massena Humane Society, Massena Meals on Wheels and the Greater Massena Chamber of Commerce were cut by at least 10 percent in Mr. Gray’s plan. The chamber will see its funding reduced by 40 percent, or $6,000, from $15,000 to $9,000, while the Humane Society would see a $6,000 cut, from $53,500 to 47,500.

While the Business Development Corporation for a Greater Massena will see its funding doubled, from $30,000 to $60,000 Mr. Gray cautioned the agency on Wednesday.

“The BDC is being put on notice that this commitment means that we will expect significant results over the next 24 to 28 months. Those results will be measured and analyzed,” he said. “This community has spent tens of thousands of dollars chasing economic development progress and we have not seen a great return on that investment over the past few decades.”

In previous years, town board members pledged to attempt to eliminate the tax rate increase in the supervisor’s proposal. Officials said they were not yet sure how much they could whittle down Mr. Gray’s proposed increase this year.

“We’ve got to ask questions and see what we have to do,”Councilman John F. Macaulay said.

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